Monday, December 14, 2015

Is Hampden- Christmas Village and Growth Zone- Suffocating?

The busiest street in Baltimore last Saturday at 9 pm was not in Fells Point, not at the Inner Harbor, not on Cross Street and not at O'Donnell Square in Canton. No, the record for Jane Jacobs "eyes on the street" clearly goes to Hampden and specifically its 34th Street, with "the Avenue" a close second.
34th Street, Hampden  (photo ArchPlan)

The famous block with the highest wattage festival of lights in the region is smartly closed to cars on Saturday. The crowd occupies the block wall to wall with hardly a patch of asphalt left to step on. The temperatures still in the sixties in the late evening allow an open air enjoyment that is better than the always stifling hot Artscape but totally without the usual Christmas light show chill.

36th Street is the best subsitute for a
Christmas market (photo ArchPlan)
34th Street Hampden  (photo ArchPlan)
Since Baltimore and most American cities  never discovered for whatever reason, the quiet romantic charm of Europe's traditional Christmas markets (and no, the Inner Harbor import with its white heated tent is not even an Ersatz, German vendors notwithstanding) a festively decorated traditional "main street" with small shops and comforts such as ice cream, coffee, tea and ethnic food (check out Daniela's excellent Italian specialties in the tiniest restaurant ever) is best next thing during the holiday season.
Daniela, an excellent tiny restaurant and deli store

I suspect that many motorists inching towards the light spectacle were surprised to see the street barricaded after having spent a good while to reach the attraction, something a few signs could alleviate and entice more folks to leave their cars in time to stroll through Hampden's village Main Street, 36th Street or simply, "the Avenue", a street that really deserves the title main street with all its local stores, restaurants and used book and records shops.

Native Baltimorean's have reserved their special niche for Hampden, depending on ethnicity and class that niche is one of love, contempt or suspicion.

Urban observers grouse about what could become of the quaint village now that it has become a destination for some hipsters and generally seems to go off the charts in terms of being the calling card for what "Charm City" is supposed to be all about. The gentrification word is used this way and that, an onslaught of chain stores is feared (although except for the old standbys of Royal Farms and 7-11 none are in sight), the party culture clustering around Union Avenue and the brew pubs there is condemned by old-timers and those who want to live quietly in Hampden's side streets.

Others fear over-development in light of mega projects such as the new Rotunda or the Pepsi Plant redevelopment.
Plus, there is no getting around the fact that the village is still not really integrated.
Test cooking for future chefs  on the Avenue (photo ArchPlan)

Sitting outside in the Christmas season (photo ArchPlan)

Meanwhile, those who don't have to live through the month-long "miracle" on 34th Street should be tickled as pink as Cafe Hon's famous facade flamingo that here we have a real urban success story that, by and large, can be shared by anyone who wants to, most offerings are certainly still affordable and the air is far from being snobby. We need that kind of success in Baltimore, don't we?

To me, just returning from a city that grew 42% in only 13 years (Fort Worth, TX), the projected growth of Hampden seems manageable and very desirable for Baltimore overall.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Blogpost about the Rotunda

Baltimore SUN Hampden column by Jacques Kelly

Baltimore SUN about growth in Hampden

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